Syria

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Posted by motoman 02/26/2009 @ 00:56

Tags : syria, middle east, world

News headlines
AP source: US envoy to visit Syria, Lebanon - guardian.co.uk
AP foreign, Monday June 8 2009 WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Obama administration official says US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell plans to travel to Syria and Lebanon this week. The visit would follow elections last weekend in Lebanon in which a...
UN: Evidence that bombed Syrian site was nuclear - Jewish Telegraphic Agency
In a report released last Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Syria has yet to explain the presence of uranium particles at the site in the Syrian desert, Dair Alzour, and that Syria had procured a large amount of graphite that Western...
Carter satisfied process was fair - Atlanta Journal Constitution
The other coalition, dominated by the Hezbollah party, was backed by Iran and Syria. This was the 76th election monitored by the Carter Center. “And I think this was one of the better ones,” he said. There were some anomalies that he will suggest be...
'Syria reiterates willingness to resume Turkish-mediated peace talks' - Jerusalem Post
COM STAFF Syria has reiterated its willingness to resume Turkish-mediated peace negotiations with Israel, Israel Radio reported Tuesday morning. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly told US administration officials in Washington last...
US official: Mitchell to visit Syria after Israel and Palestine - Syria News Station - محطة أخبار سوريا
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity said that "the US special presidential envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will visit Syria and Lebanon after his talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials."....
Syria Tells Sudan It Rejects Foreign Meddling Over Darfur - NASDAQ
DAMASCUS (AFP)--Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday told Sudan's foreign minister that he rejects foreign interference over its war-torn western region of Darfur, the official SANA news agency reported. Assad in talks with Khartoum's visiting...
Mitchell to visit Middle East, may go to Syria - Reuters
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - US envoy George Mitchell may visit Syria next week as part of Middle East trip, a stop that would suggest a further improvement in long-strained US-Syrian ties, the US State Department said on Friday....
Syria declares emergency for drought-hit northeast - AFP
DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syria on Monday adopted emergency measures, including food distribution, to help people in the drought-hit northeast of the country, the official Sana news agency said. It said the authorities "have begun to distribute food aid in the...
ANALYSIS-US weighs Lebanon aid if Hezbollah, allies win vote - Reuters
The assassination triggered an international outcry that led neighboring Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon and gave rise to the "March 14" anti-Syrian, pro-Western alliance that now holds a parliamentary majority....
Fought: How can the US measure success in the Middle East? - Austin American-Statesman
One popular axiom about the Middle East is that you cannot make war without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria. When Carter brought Egypt into the Camp David Accords, he took war off the table — a noble step. "Making Peace," by bringing in...

History of Syria

Female figurine, Syria, 5000 BC. Ancient Orient Museum.

This article deals with the history of Syria, and the nations (or pre-national civilizations) previously occupying its territory.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilization in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth. Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, an Italian mission led by Prof. Paolo Matthiae discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaoh found during excavations confirm Ebla's contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored as the nation of the Amorites a few centuries later and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions associated with the Sea Peoples. The Hebrews eventually settled south of Damascus, in the areas later known as Palestine; the Phoenicians settled along the coastline of these areas as well as in the west, in the area (Lebanon) already known for its cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period, as it was a marchland between their various empires. Eventually the Persians took control of Syria as part of their general control of Southwest Asia; this control transferred to the Greeks after Alexander the Great's conquests and thence to the Romans and the Byzantines.

Syria was Roman (Byzantine) province from 64 BC to 636 AD.

In the Roman period, the great city of Antioch (called "the Athens of the east" at that time) was the capital of Syria. It was one of the largest cities in the ancient world, with a total estimated population of 500,000, as well as one of the largest centers of trade and industry. As one of the wealthiest and more populous provinces of the Roman Empire, it is estimated that the population of Syria in the early Roman Empire was only exceeded in the 19th century.

In the 3rd century Syria was home to Elagabalus, a Roman emperor of the Severan dynasty who reigned from 218 to 222. Elagabalus' family held hereditary rights to the priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal, of whom Elagabalus was the high priest at Emesa (modern Hims) in Syria.

Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus and established the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.

During the struggles of the Islamic dynasties for the possession of Syria the country still enjoyed a considerable degree of prosperity. In 750, it came under Abbasid dominion, losing prominence owing to the move of the Abbasid capital to Baghdad.

From 960 to c. 1020 the Byzantine Empire launched a string of successful counter-attacks, capturing Antioch, Tarsus, and Aleppo (twice). Under John Tzimiskes Syria was completely overrun; Damascus itself, the former capital of the Islamic world, was captured, although only for a brief period. The invasion of Seljuk Turks in the latter half of the 11th century put an end to Byzantine Syria. Nonetheless the majority of the population remained Christian, allowing for a significant pool of Turcopoles to be raised in the Crusader armies.

In the late 11th century, Syria was conquered first by the Seljuks and then carved between Turkmen tribes and participants of the first Crusade. In time, the Islamic part of Syria expanded up to the Orontes river and became a center of anti-crusader activity, especially for Zengi, Nur ad-Din and his successor and rival, Saladin. Even so, sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish crusader states. In the 13th century, the first Mongols arrived, destroying cities and irrigation works. By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria.

Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. It reached the population it had in late Antiquity only in the 1960s.

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and in 1922 the League of Nations split the dominion of the former Syria between two countries: the United Kingdom received Transjordan and Palestine, and France received what was to become modern-day Syria and Lebanon.

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under King Faisal of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the League of Nations put Syria under French mandate. In 1925, Syrian resistance to French colonial rule broke out in full scale revolt. Despite French attempts to maintain control by encouraging sectarian divisions and isolating urban and rural areas, the revolt spread from the countryside and united Syrian Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, Allawis, and Christians. Once the rebel forces had besieged Damascus, the French military responded with brutal counter-insurgency techniques that prefigured those that would be used later in Algeria and Indo-China. These techniques included house demolitions, collective punishments of towns, executions, population transfers, and the use of heavy armor in urban neighborhoods. The revolt was eventually subdued via French aerial bombardment of civilian areas, including Damascus.

Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal's brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, France reneged on the treaty and refused to ratify it. With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn't until January 1, 1944 that it was recognized as an independent republic. On February 26, 1945 Syria declared war on Germany and Japan. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s was marked by upheaval. In 1949, Syria's national government was overthrown by a military coup d'état led by Hussni al-Zaim. Later that year Zaim was overthrown by his colleague Sami al-Hinnawi. Few months later, Hinnawi was overthrown by Colonel Adib al-Sheeshakli. The latter continued to rule the country until 1954, when growing public opposition forced him to resign and leave the country. The national government was restored, but again to face instability, this time coming from abroad. Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions. In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Israel area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory. A series of military coups, begun in 1949, undermined civilian rule and led to army colonel Adib Shishakli's seizure of power in 1951. After the overthrow of President Shishakli in a 1954 coup, continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military eventually brought Arab nationalist and socialist elements to power. The early years of independence were marked by political instability. In 1948, the Syrian army was sent to Palestine to fight along with other Arab armies against the newly created State of Israel. The Arabs lost the war, and Israel occupied 78 percent of the area of historical Palestine. In July 1949, Syria was the last Arab country to sign an armistice agreement with Israel. However, It was only the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria. Later Syrian and Iraqi troops were brought into Jordan to prevent a possible Israeli invasion. The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq's acceptance into the Baghdad Pact. In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.

In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria. With this increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderon, a formerly Syrian city now in Turkey. On the other hand, Syria and the U.S.S.R. accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border. During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.

Syria's political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser's leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt. On February 1, 1958, Syrian president Shukri al-Kuwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.

The union was not a success, however. Following a military coup on September 28, 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. Instability characterised the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on March 8, 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s. The new cabinet was dominated by Baath members.

The Baath takeover in Syria followed a Baath coup in Iraq the previous month. The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Baath-controlled Iraq. An agreement was concluded in Cairo on April 17, 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize. Thereafter, the Baath regimes in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity. These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Baath regime in Iraq was overthrown. In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organisations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet. On February 23, 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Baath government on March 1. The coup leaders described it as a "rectification" of Baath Party principles. In Junewar 1967 Syria opened an attack on Israel and shelled Israeli villages from the Golan, and Israel invaded, captured and occupied the Golan. Syria and captured and occupied the Golan. This invasion weakened the radical socialist regime established by the 1966 coup.

Conflict developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Baath Party. The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the "Black September" hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Baath leadership. On November 13, 1970, Minister of Defense Hafiz al-Asad effected a bloodless military coup, ousting the civilian party leadership and assuming the role of President.

Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control. The Provisional Regional Command of Assad's Arab Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People's Council, in which the Baath Party took 87 seats. The remaining seats were divided among "popular organizations" and other minor parties. In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Baath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria's 14 governorates. In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People's Council, the first such elections since 1962.

On October 06, 1973, Syria and Egypt began the Yom Kippur War by staging a surprise attack against Israel (Arabs call it the "Ramadan War" or "October War" because Syria and Egypt attacked during Ramadan in the month of October). But despite the element of surprise, Egypt and Syria lost the war, and Israel continued to occupy the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-occupied territories. In early 1976, the Lebanese civil war was going poorly for the Maronite Christians. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War, beginning the 30 year Syrian presence in Lebanon. Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many see the Syrian Army's presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.

The authoritarian regime was not without its critics, though most were quickly murdered. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the regime. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing many thousands of dead and wounded. Since then, public manifestations of anti-regime activity have been very limited.

Syria's 1990 participation in the U.S.-led multinational coalition aligned against Saddam Hussein marked a dramatic watershed in Syria's relations both with other Arab states and with the Western world. Syria participated in the multilateral Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and during the 1990s engaged in direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. These negotiations failed, and there have been no further Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafiz al-Assad's meeting with then President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.

Hafiz al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, which allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party. On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian government statistics.

The United States Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act in December, 2003, with the goal of ending what the U.S. sees as Syrian involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction through international sanctions.

On September 6, 2007 Israel bombed a target in the Deir ez-Zor region. The White House and CIA declared that American intelligence indicated the site was a nuclear facility with a military purpose, though Syria denied this.

On October 26, 2008 helicopter-borne CIA paramilitary officers and United States Special Operations Forces carried out a raid to the Syrian territory from Iraq The Syrian government called the event a "criminal and terrorist" attack on its sovereignty, alleging all of the reported eight fatalities were civilians. An unnamed U.S. military source, however, alleged that the target was a network of foreign fighters who travel through Syria to join the Iraqi insurgency against the United States-led Coalition in Iraq and the Iraqi government.

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Muslim conquest of Syria

Map detailing Rashidun Caliphates invasion of Levant.

The Muslim conquest of Syria occurred in the first half of the 7th century, and refers to the region known as the Bilad al-Sham, the Levant, or Greater Syria. Arab forces had appeared on the southern borders even before the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in 632, such as the Battle of Mu'tah in 629, but the real invasion began in 634 under his successors, the Rashidun Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Khattab, with Khalid ibn al-Walid as its most important military leader.

Syria had been under Roman rule for seven centuries prior to the Arab conquest and had been invaded by the Sassanid Persians on a number of occasions during the third, sixth and seventh centuries; it had also been subject to raids by the Sassanid's Arab allies the Lakhmids. The region was known as the Iudaea Province of the Byzantine (Roman) Empire and the their Arab client state of the Ghassanids, (symmachos). During the last of the Roman-Persian Wars, beginning in 603, the Persians under Khosrau II had succeeded in occupying Syria, Palestine and Egypt for over a decade before being forced by the victories of Heraclius to conclude the peace of 628.. Thus, on the eve of the Muslim conquests the Romans were still in the process of rebuilding their authority in these territories, which in some areas had been lost to them for almost twenty years. Politically, the Syrian region consisted of two provinces. Syria proper stretched from Antioch and Aleppo in the north to the top of the Dead Sea. West and south of the Dead Sea lay the province of Palestine, which included the holy places of the three Abrahamic religions. Syria, was partly an Arab land, especially in its eastern and southern parts. The Arabs had been there since pre-Roman times; and had embraced Christianity since Constantine I legalized it in fourth century. Arabs of Syria were people of no consequence until the migration of the powerful Ghassan tribe from the Yemen to Syria, who thereafter ruled a semi-autonomous state with their own king under the Romans. The Ghassan Dynasty became one of the honoured princely dynasties of the Empire, with the Ghassan king ruling over the Arabs in Jordan and Southern Syria from his capital at Bosra. The last of the Ghassan kings, who ruled at the time of Muslim's invasion, was Jabla bin Al Aiham. Emperor Heraclius, after re-capturing Syria from the Sassanids set up new defense lines from Ghazzah to the south end of dead sea, these lines were only designed to protect communications from bandits and bulk of Byzantine defences were concentrated in northern Syria facing the traditional foes, the Sassanid Persians. This defence line had a draw back that enabled the Muslims, that emerged from the desert in the south, to reach as north as Ghazzah before meeting regular Byzantine troops. 7th century A.D, was a time of quickening military changes in Byzantine empire. The empire was certainly not in state of collapse when it faced the new challenge from Arabia after being exhausted by recent Roman-Persian Wars, but failed completely to tackle the challenge effectively.

The Islamic Prophet Mohammad died in June 632, and Abu Bakr was appointed Caliph and political successor at Medina. Soon after Abu Bakr's succession, several Arab tribes revolted against in the Ridda wars (Arabic for the Wars of Apostasy). The Campaign of the Apostasy was fought and completed during the eleventh year of the Hijri. The year 12 Hijri dawned, on March 18, 633, with Arabia united under the central authority of the Caliph at Medina.

Whether Abu Bakr intended a full-out imperial conquest or not is hard to say; he did, however, set in motion a historical trajectory that in just a few short decades would lead to one of the largest empires in history, beginning with confrontation with the Lakhmids, an Arab client of the Persian Empire under the general Khalid ibn al-Walid.

After successful campaigns against Sassanids and the ensuing conquest of Iraq Khalid established his stronghold on Iraq. While engaged with Sassanid forces, confrontation also ensued with the Byzantine Arab clients, the Ghassanids. Tribal contingents were soon recruited to the call from Madinah from all over the Arabian peninsula. Only those who had rebelled during the Ridda wars were excluded from the summons and remained excluded from Rashidun armies until in 636 when Caliph Umar fell short of manpower for the Battle of Yarmouk and Battle of al-Qādisiyyah. The tradition of raising armies from tribal contingents remained in use until 636, when Caliph Umar organised the army as a state department.

Abu Bakr organised the army in to four corps, each with its own commander and objective.

Khalid was immediately dispatched to the Syrian front. Khalid set out for Syria from Hira, in Iraq in early June 634, taking with him half his army, about 8000 strong.

Instead of taking the traditional rout to Syria via Domat ul Jandal (in norther Arabia), Khalid decided to reach Syria from the most least expected and shortest rout to Syria, across the Syrian desert thus appearing on Syrian front at Tadmur in central Syria in early June after a march through Syrian desert.

He first captured the town of Sawa, and then moved onto to the city of Arak city in the same day. The next day Khalid moved to Tadmur and then onto the cities of As Sukhnah and Qadma. The next day the cities of Qaryatayn and Hawwareen were captured after small engagements; the Battle of Qaryatayn and Battle of Hawareen.

He next set-off towards Damascus and after three days arrived at a mountain pass 20 miles (32 km) from Damascus, now known as Sanita-al-Uqab(Eagle pass), so-called for the standard of Khalid's army. From here however he veered away from Damascus and moved towards the rest of the Islamic armies which were still near the Syrian-Arabia border. At Maraj-al-Rahab, Khalid defeated a Ghassanid army at the Battle of Marj-al-Rahit and arrived Bosra 3 days later, to join Shurhabil's force of 4000 men, who while attempting to besiege the city had nearly nearly been encircled and outnumbered by the Byzantine army. Upon the arrival of Khalid's cavalry the Roman army retreated and fortified themselves in the castle from where they launched an unsuccessful charge a few days later. Bosra surrendered in mid of July 634 A.D. and all the corps of Muslim army joined Khalid at Ajnadayn on 24 July 634 where they defeated the Byzantines on 30th July 634 A.D at the Battle of Ajnadayn. A week later Khalid moved to Damascus, engaging a small Roman army in the Battle of Yakosa in mid-August 634 A.D along the way. This force was presumably an advance guard sent to delay the Muslim advance so that necessary measures could be undertaken for the defence of Damascus even as the remnants of the force deafeated at Ajnadayn retreated to Damascus as well. Tomur, the son-in-law of Emperor Heraclius and commander of the garrison at Damascus, sent an army to stop Khalid but they too were defeated in the Battle of Maraj-al-Safar on 19 August 634 A.D and retreated back to Damascus. Damascus was besieged for 30 days and was conquered on 18th September 634 A.D. During its siege Heraculis sent more reinforcements from Antioch to attempt to break the siege, but they were defeated at the Battle of Sanita-al-Uqab 20 miles (32 km) from Damascus. As part of the surrender agreement, the Roman army was given a 3 day march to go as far as they could, with their families and treasure before they would be pursued. The Muslim cavalry caught up with these forces by using an unknown shortcut and engaged them in the Battle of Maraj-al-Debaj.

On 22 August 634, Caliph Abu Bakr died making Umar his successor. As Umar became caliph, he relieved Khalid the command of Islamic armies and appointed Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah the new commander of the army. The news of Abu Bakr's death and appointment letter reached Abu Ubaida during the siege of Damascus but he didn't reveal it until after the Battle of Maraj-al-Debaj.

With this new change in command, the campaign of Syria slowed down as Abu Ubaida, unlike Khalid would move more cautiously. Abu Ubaida retained Khalid as the commander of the Muslim's cavalry and relied heavily on his advice. In the south at Fahal, the bulk of survivors of the Battle of Ajnadyn, remained a constant threat to the Muslim rear and were thus engaged next and routed them at the Battle of Fahal on the 23rd of January 635. They then retreated into Northern Syria and Antioch.

Muslim armies next consolidated their conquest of the Levant as Shurhabil and Amr went deeper in to Palestine. Baisan surrendered after a little resistance followed by the surrender of Tabariya in February 635. Caliph Umar, after getting the intelligence of disposition and strength of the Byzantine army in Palestine, wrote detailed instructions to corps commanders in Palestine and ordered Yazid to capture the Mediterranean coast. The corps of Amr and Shurhabil accordingly marched against the strongest Byzantine garrison in Ajnadyn and defeated them in the 2nd Battle of Ajnadyn after which the two corps separated, with Amr moving to capture Nablus, Amawas, Gaza and Yubna in order to complete the conquest of all Palestine, while Shurahbil thrust against the coastal towns of Acre and Tyre. Yazid advanced from Damascus to capture the ports of Sidon, Arqa, Jabail and Beirut. By 635 A.D, Palestine, Jordan and Southern Syria, with the exception of Jerusalem and Caesarea, were in Muslims hands. On the orders of Caliph Umar, Yazid next besieged to Caesarea, which was lifted but resumed after the Battle of Yarmouk until the port fell in 640.

While the Muslim armies under Abu Ubaida and Khalid moved towards Emesa in northern Syria, Heraclius counterattacked by sending General Theodras to recapture a now weakly defended Damascus. Theodras engaged the Muslim army at Maraj al Rum, but quickly dispatched half of his army towards Damascus at night while Abu Ubaida and Khalid were engaged with the rest. When the Muslims realized the Byzantine maneuver, Abu Ubaida sent Khalid with his cavalry onwards to Damascus where Khalid engaged and defeated the Byzantine army outside Damascus even as Abu Ubaidah defeated the remaining Roman forces at Maraj al rum. A week later, Abu Ubaida moved towards Balaq, an important garrison in central Syria, which surrendered peacefully, while an other detachment under Khalid was sent straight to Emesa. Emesa and Qinnasrin signed a one year peace treaty, which was in fact a temporary measure while waiting for help from the Emperor. In November 635, Khalid and Abu Ubaida moved towards Hamma and next Khalid took Shairzer, Afamia and Matar-al-Hamz. Meanwhile Qinasareen and Emesa broke the peace treaty and in response, Abu Ubaida dispatched Khalid to Emesa, where he defeated the advance guard of the garrison outside Emesa and laid siege to the city where he was joined by Abu Ubaida with the main army. After two months of siege Emesa was conquered in March 636.

While Muslims were engaged in subduing northern Syria, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius prepared a major counterattack and assembled a grand army in Syria to roll back the Arab conquest. Preparations started in late 635, and by May 636 a force was put under arms at Antioch and northern Syria. This force was organized into five armies, Mahan was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the entire Imperial army which was launched in the middle of June 636.

It was at Shaizar, through Roman prisoners, that the Muslims first came to know of the preparations being made by Heraclius. Alerted to the possibility of being caught with their forces separated, as Heraclius planned, Abu Ubaidah, following advice from Kahlid, decided to pull back from North and Central Syria and Palestine inorder to concentrate the whole army to face the Byzantine threat, and in case of defeat, leave upon a route of retreat to the Arabian Desert. Accordingly Muslim forces withdrew to the plain of Yarmouk where command of army was partially transferred to Khalid ibn Walid by Abu Ubaidah. The Battle of Yarmouk took place in the third week of August 636, resulting in a crushing defeat of the Byzantine army. After the battle the Byzantine army no longer effectively operated in Syria except for the garrisons pockets such as at Aleppo and the conquest of Syria was effectively complete.

After the Battle of Yarmouk, the next step was the capture of Jerusalem. The siege of Jerusalem lasted four months after which the city agreed to surrender, but only to the caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab in person. The Caliph Umar came and the city surrendered in April 637 CE after which Abu Ubaida sent the commanders Amr bin al-As, Yazid bin Abu Sufyan, and Shurhabil out to reconquer the portions of Palestine which they had abandoned prior to Battle of Yarmouk. Most of these areas submitted without further fighting.

Abu Ubaida himself along with Khalid returned to northern Syria with a force 17,000 strong. Khalid along with his cavalry was sent to Hazir while Abu Ubaidah moved upon Qinnasrin. Khalid defeated a strong Byzantine army in the Battle of Hazir at Hazir near the fort of Qinnasrin and the city surrendered to Khalid. After a long siege, in October 637 Aleppo surrendered, as there was little hope of reinforcements arriving from Constantinople.

After the capture of the fort of Azaz in mid October 637, Antioch was the next city to be captured following the Battle of Iron bridge on 30th October 637. The remaining Greek dominated cities along the Mediterranean coast; Latakia, Jablah and Tartus which were guarded from the natural barriers of Anti-Lebonan hills; were next. Khalid was then dispatched to conquer north- eastern Syria; all the areas up to Manbij and the Euphrates.

By 637, three years after the invasion, the whole Levant had been conquered except for the coastal city of Caesarea, which finally surrendered in 640.

The various Muslim commanders settled down as governors of provinces: Amr bin Al Aas in Palestine, Sharhabeel in Jordan, Yazid in Damascus, Abu Ubaidah in Emesa and Khalid as administrator of the Northern Garrison of Qinnasrin from where he would keep watch over the northern territories.

Heraclius was no longer able to attempt a military comeback in Syria. In fact after the destruction of his army at Yarmuk and Antioch, the empire was extremely vulnerable to Muslim invasion. He had few military resources left with which to defend his domains against the now invincible army of Caliph Umar. In order to buy time for the preparation of his defences it was essential to keep the Muslims occupied in Syria, and he did this by inciting the Christian Arabs of the Jazira to take the offensive against the Muslims. Bound to him by religious ties, they began preparations to cross the Euphrates and invade Northern Syria from the east. Christian Arabs laid siege to Emesa in early 638. The situation was brilliantly tackled by Caliph Umar, while the Muslim army under Abu Ubaida and Khalid was on the defensive at Emesa, he ordered the Muslim commander in chief in Iraq to send the columns to Jazirah from three different sides and a column to Emesa to reinforce the Muslim army there. Soon the Christian Arabs realized that they were trapped as their homeland was being captured by the Muslims and that reinforcements were on their way to Emesa, so they retreated back to Jazirah.

This act of Jazirah's Christian Arabs was followed by fierce measures from the Caliphate, and Jazirah, the last base of the Eastern Roman empire in the Middle East was captured the same year. On the orders of Caliph Umar, Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, commander of the Muslim army in Iraq sent an army under Ayadh bin Ghanam to conquer the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates up to Urfa. In order to secure Syria from any future aggression it was necessary to clear the neighbouring lands from all hostile elements, thus in summer 638 further conquests were made in Anatolia up to Tarsus and as far north as Marash and Malatya. Malatya was later burned to the ground on the orders of Heraclius to punish its inhabitats for submitting to Muslims. After conquest of Marsh in 638, with the completion of the conquest of the region, Khalid was dismissed from the army by Caliph Umar, presumeably because of his growing power and influence. By 638 most of southwestern Anatolia was under the control of the Caliphate. About 40% of the Byzantine empire was conquered and the Byzantine army was now shattered. No longer possessing the resources to recover their lost territory they evacuated their fortifications from South Western Anatolia upon the orders of Heraculis in order to create a nomansland or an empty zone between their strongholds in western Anatolia and those of the Rashidun Caliphate. Any further operations in Anatolia were abstained from due to a drought in 638 and a plague in Syria in 639. Umar was also engaged in the creation of a buffer zone around all of Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, and so while Syria was being captured to the west, Muslim forces were simultaneously engaging the Sassanid Empire there. After the Islamic conquest of Persia the Muslims were able to resume the offensive against the Byzantines by pushing into the Egypt, or Aegyptus (Roman province).

During the reign of Caliph Uthman, Constantine III, decided to re-capture the Levant, which had been lost to the Muslims during Umar’s reign. A full-scale invasion was planned and a large force was sent to re-conquer Syria. Muawiyah I, the then governor of Syria, called for reinforcements and Uthman ordered the governor of Kufa to send a contingent, which together with the garrison of Syria defeated the Byzantine army in northern Syria.

Uthman gave permission to Muawiyah, the governor of Syria to build a navy. From their base in Syria, Muslims used this fleet to capture Cyprus in 649 and Crete and then Rhodes and the launching of annual raids into western Anatolia thwarted the Byzantines from making any further attempts to recapture Syria. In 654-655, Uthman ordered preparation of an expedition to capture the capital of Eastern Roman empire, Constantinople, but due to unrest in the empire that grew in 655 and resulted in his assassination, the expedition was delayed for decades only to be attempted unsuccessfully under the next dynasty of Ummayad rulers.

The new rulers divided Syria into four districts (junds): Damascus, Hims, Jordan, and Palestine (to which a fifth, Qinnasrin, was later added) and the Arab garrisons were kept apart in camps, and life went on much as before for the local population. The Muslim's adopted a policy of tolerance towards other religions, resulting in a positive effect on the new subject people, especially the Nestorian and Jacobite Christians and Jews (People of the Book), who had been previously persecuted under Byzantine rule. The loyalty of his new subjects was paramount to the success of Muslim rule in the region, therefore excessive taxation or oppression was avoided. The taxes instituted were the kharaj - a tax that landowners and peasants paid according to the productivity of their fields - as well as the jizya - paid by non-Muslims in return for protection under the Muslim state and exemption from military service. The Byzantine civil service was retained until a new system could be instituted; therefore, Greek remained the administrative language in the new Muslim territories for over 50 years after the conquests.

When the first civil war broke out in the Muslim empire, as a result of the murder of 'Uthman and the nomination of 'Ali as caliph. Rashidun Caliphate was succeeded by the new dynasty of Umayyad with Syria as its core and Damascus its capital, for the next century.

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Demographics of Syria

Demographics of Syria, Data of FAO, year 2007 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Syria, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Syrians today are an overall indigenous Levantine people, closely related to their immediate neighbours, like the Lebanese and (to a lesser extent) Jordanians. While modern-day Syrians are commonly described as Arabs by virtue of their modern-day language and bonds to Arab culture and history — they are in fact largely a blend of the various Aramaic speaking groups indigenous to the region who were Arabized when Muslim Arabs from South Arabia arrived and settled following the Arab expansion.

Syria's population is 74% Sunni Muslim, and 16% other Muslim groups, including the Alawi, Shi'a, and Druze, and 10% Christian. There also is a very small (100) Syrian Jewish community. There is a 40 000 strong Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York.

Arabic is the official, and most widely spoken, language. Arabic speakers, including some 400,000 Palestinians, make up 85% of the population. Many educated Syrians also speak English or French, but English is more widely understood. The Kurds, many of whom speak Kurdish, make up 9% of the population and live mostly in the northeast corner of Syria, though sizable Kurdish communities live in most major Syrian cities as well. Armenian and Turkish are spoken among the small Armenian and Turkoman populations respectively. Aramaic is still used by the Assyrian/Syriac minority and in some villages of the Antilebanon.

Most people live in the city of Aleppo, or the Euphrates River valley and along the coastal plain, a fertile strip between the coastal mountains and the desert. Overall population density is about 54/km² (140 per sq. mi.) Education is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 11. Schooling consists of 6 years of primary education followed by a 3-year general or vocational training period and a 3-year academic or vocational program. The second 3-year period of academic training is required for university admission. Total enrollment at post-secondary schools is over 150,000. The literacy rate of Syrians aged 15 and older is 86.0% for males and 73.6% for females.

Ancient Syria's cultural and artistic achievements and contributions are many. Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings and evidence of a brilliant culture rivaling those of Mesopotamia and Egypt in and around the ancient city of Ebla. Later Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture. Zeno of Sidon founded the Epicurean school; Cicero was a pupil of Antiochus of Ascalon at Athens; and the writings of Posidonius of Apamea influenced Livy and Plutarch. Syrians have contributed to Arabic literature and music and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. Although declining, the world-famous handicraft industry still employs thousands.

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated.

Arabic (official); Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; English, French somewhat understood.

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Source : Wikipedia